Government Still Pretending That Letting Phone Companies Hold Mass Surveillance Data Would Improve Privacy

from the NSAT&T dept

You’ll recall the Obama administration asked for input on what should happen to collected NSA data as part of the highly cosmetic reforms proposed back in January. Now reports have emerged that the Obama administration is being presented with four options by its lawyers in terms of phone communications data collection and storage. Anonymous sources tell the Wall Street Journal that one of the options is dismantling the program entirely, which of course won’t be happening anytime soon. Another option continues to be to place data collection in the hands of the phone companies:

“Obama administration officials have sought to preserve the collection of phone records in a way that raises fewer concerns about privacy. One way of doing that would have the phone companies retain the data, officials said. The NSA would then tell the companies when it needs searches of call records concerning specific phone numbers the agency believes are connected to terrorism. The companies would provide the results to the NSA.”

Except as we’ve discussed repeatedly, the line between intelligence operations and phone companies has been largely obliterated courtesy of AT&T and Verizon’s patriotic enthusiasm to do whatever is asked of them — and then much, much, more. AT&T, for example, has a proud history of not only letting the NSA tap completely into their network in real time, but they’ve historically even given advice on how best to bypass privacy and wiretap laws, at times even volunteering their time as intelligence analysts. Yes, letting AT&T manage the data when they’re already indistinguishable from government sounds like a revolution in intelligence processing and privacy protection.

Before Snowden, when it was originally found that the telcos were illegally spying on countless Americans years back, the laws were simply changed — which clearly worked out well for everyone involved. The biggest problem for the government making this shift to telcos playing an even bigger role in non-transparently spying on U.S. citizens? They’re going to want even more legal protection and, inevitably, more taxpayer money:

“Several lawmakers have proposed legislation on Capitol Hill that would take this approach. But telecommunications companies oppose this option. Phone companies likely would demand liability protection and possibly other conditions to avoid outside demands for data—for instance, for run-of-the-mill legal cases such as divorce proceedings.”

Another option according to the Journal is to have the FBI hold on to that data. That’s the same FBI, who with telco help has already been doing much of the NSA’s spying anyway, and has its own long, proud tradition of ignoring the law whenever it suits them. While the government pretty clearly hopes the public takes these moves as a serious effort to protect privacy, effectively all we appear to be doing is shuffling a deck of dysfunction stocked with a litany of the same old rotten players.

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Companies: at&t, verizon

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Comments on “Government Still Pretending That Letting Phone Companies Hold Mass Surveillance Data Would Improve Privacy”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I can’t wait till such databases get copied and distributed freely causing enormous REAL harm terrorism would never dream of causing. Grab your popcorn gentleman. It’s either that or we’ll see the US become the new Nazi Germany (without the Holocaust maybe? Or will racism prevail?).

It seems we need another round of hard, bloody lessons on what not to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

I trust governments with this data, more then i’d trust companies with MANY employees or just that one that would………and i dont even trust our governments with this kind of data, with this kind of POWER……im sorry, but if i dont expect my neighbour to have this over me, then nobody should, as i should not have the ability over my neighbour, …..not bloody LEGALLY ffs

Michael (profile) says:

Not that I think anyone should keep a database such as this one, but all of their suggestions have simply been their own cronies.

If you are going to give a giant database full of information to someone that law enforcement and the military is going to use, don’t you go the checks and balances way and put it in a different branch of government? Or have the ACLU hold the keys?

Anonymous Coward says:

@Ninja (profile), Feb 26th, 2014 @ 10:07am

Popcorn indeed. This is the natural progression of history.
Evil Nation gets overthrown by good people tired of the crap.
Good Nation gets evil over time because all the good people have died and treated the Evil people well by not calling the Evil people out.
The Good Guys trying to call out the Evil are lambasted and painted into Extremist corners by the Evil people. Apathy is widespread at this point.
Nation falls to Evil.
Evil Nation gets overthrown by good people tired of the crap…

The Cycle just keeps going.

Anonymous Coward says:

NO ONE should be collecting the data period. They are trying to change the discussion from “it’s illegal for us to collect the data” to “it’s ok to collect it, but who should hold on to it”. If we let them win on this point, then we have given up our 4th amendment rights.

I wonder how many of these people we would have to try for treason as a domestic threat against the US Constitution, and how many executions would have to take place before suddenly the survivors would realize that NO MASS DATA COLLECTION is to be allowed.

Let’s fine out.

I am betting it will take 3 convictions and executions.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is a placebo move to placate “the masses” while actually doing more harm than good. In “private” stewardship it is only a matter of time before it gets “hacked” and then the gov can point and say “see we told you so, but we gave you what you wanted”. (It’s also only a matter of time before it gets “hacked” or misused if just the gov holds onto it, but they lose the “I told you so” advantage).

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